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<   No. 3838   2018-03-23   >

Comic #3838

1 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: I remember the last bloke to die of in'alin' 'atmakin' chemicals while actually makin' 'ats.
2 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: Danbury, Connecticut, 1958. Collected 'im, then went to 'is funeral out o' respect.
3 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: The grave digger was usin' some noo-fangled mechanical contraption to dig 'is grave.
4 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: "That looks a bit contrived," I says to 'im. "Yeah," 'e says, "It's a plot device."

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The use of mercury compounds in making the felt used for hats is thought to have begun in 17th century France, before spreading to England and the USA. By the mid-19th century, the association of the hatmaking profession with impaired health and mental condition was well known enough that it led to the proverbial phrase "mad as a hatter". The link to the use of mercury compounds was clinically established in 1861 by Adolph Kussmaul. By 1869, the French Academy of Medicine had demonstrated the health risk to people in the hatmaking profession. Alternatives to mercury compounds were introduced over the next decades, until in 1898 France passed legislation banning the use of mercury compounds in felt making. Mercury quickly fell into disuse in England as well.

However, across the Atlantic, American authorities were much slower to act. Mercury compounds continued to be used in hatmaking for several decades, until finally in 1941 the use of mercury for civilian purposes was curtailed - not for health reasons, but due to the need for mercury to manufacture detonators for use in World War II. Many of those factories continuing to use mercury into the 1940s were located in Danbury, Connecticut, a small city which had become the centre of hat manufacturing in the US after several companies set up shop there. Danbury was nicknamed "Hat City", and, more sinisterly, became associated with the disease known as the "Danbury shakes" - named after the muscular tremors suffered by workers suffering nervous system damage from the mercury.

Eighty years after the danger had first been identified.

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